St. Nick's Outlaws
By Jim Colombo
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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo
Hell week was from June 12th through the 16th, and the students were getting
used to the chaos of last minute papers that had to be resubmitted, and the grind of the
exams. Comp testing was like having wind sprints in full gear all day. Brother Tim no
longer sparkled since receiving his last mysterious roses a year ago, so Jim visited
Casmir, and he obliged Jim one more time. When the students arrived for their Religion
exam, Brother Tim was bubbling and fluttering across the room. There was a single
long stem rose in a white vase with a card signed, “From: Prince Charming.” Next was
the History final with Mr. Mazetti. It was an essay about how world war one set the
stage for world war two. In May the students started noticing that Mr. Mazetti was
losing weight. He was about six feet tall and weighed about two hundred and ten
pounds, but now he looked forty pounds lighter and his suit jackets hung on his
shoulders. He had two suits, one blue and one gray. The students could tell what day
of the week it was by his clothes. Mondays he wore the blue suit, Tuesdays he wore
the gray suit, Wednesdays he wore the blue suit jacket with the gray suit pants, and
Thursdays he wore the gray suit jacket and the blue suit pants. Fridays he wore a black
pair of pants, a black sweater, and a white shirt with a tie.
The last final was Brother Crater’s chemistry analysis. Each student received a
flask with a number on it filled with different elements. Brother Crater called roll, and
recorded each student’s number. Azonni was Brother Crater’s assistant, and had
chapped lips from kissing ass. He was on the Dean’s list, and a member of the
California Scholastic Association, C.S.A. The lads referred to it as “Chicken Shits
Anonymous.” Azonni knew what elements were in each flask. Jim’s number was 23.
For $10 Azonni would tell Jim the composition of his flask. Brother Crater thought that
he would be clever and put trace elements in some of the flasks, adding to the
challenge of the analysis. Jim had a B- average prior to finals. Azonni asked Jim for
$15 dollars because his flask had trace elements. Jim gave Azonni $20, and asked for
the percentages of elements. Brother Crater was so impressed with Jim’s analysis that
he gave Jim an A- final grade. Friday was Comp testing, the last hurdle to jump, and
the students wanted to get the hell out of there and get on with summer vacation. They
struggled through the routine and mercifully, Friday passed into the depths of limbo. The
lads were free to enjoy life for two an a half months.
Mary’s younger brother, Vic, owned a fifty-five foot fishing boat moored at Oak
Harbor on the Juan De Fuca Straits north of Seattle, Washington. He had been in the
Navy for eight years, and had been a fisherman for five years. Jim was determined to
go to Alaska with Papas and Jim’s parent’s agreed that he could go if he worked for his
uncle. Jim waited for Uncle Vic’s phone call to give him instructions about what type of
clothes and personal articles to bring. He would miss Lupe’s beautiful smile and her
loving hugs for twelve weeks. He and Papas were going on an adventure people only
talk about. It was the next level of competition and he would find out if he would pass
the test as a man. It was like the fight on Vicksburg Street. Right or wrong he had to
go. There is risk in anything, and he wouldn’t do anything foolish. He believed Lupe’s
crucifix would protect him. His uncle was a good fisherman and would look out for him.
Jim was sixteen and Papas was seventeen. They were going on an Alaskan
Sunday morning Uncle Vic called and Jim wrote a list of things he had to buy.
He had $200 dollars in his savings account, so Joe gave Jim $150 to buy a round trip
ticket from San Francisco to Seattle on Western Airlines. Jim went to Sullivan’s Army-
Navy Surplus Store and bought two bibs and slickers, two pairs of rubber boots, ten
pairs of heavy wool socks, thermal underwear, a pair of Wells-Lamont horsehide gloves,
and a Pee coat: a heavy wool coat worn in the Navy. Mary had good intentions, but Jim
could not bring hand lotion, Kleenex, and toilet paper with him. Jim bought five flannel
shirts and three pairs of blue jeans. Papas and Jim decided not to shave while in
Alaska. They would leave Tuesday, June 20th, 1963.
Papas was hired by a Portuguese captain named De Guzman and would fly to
Seattle with Jim, transfer to fly to Anchorage, then a Cesna 150 would fly him to Nome.
His airfare was $300. The captain of the fishing boat told Papas if worked hard, and if the
catch was good, he would reimburse Papas the $300 as a bonus. Papas didn’t have extra
money left after he paid for his roundtrip ticket, so Jim gave him two flannel shirts, a
sweater, and $50. Papas said that he would repay him when they got back.
Jim said good bye to Lupe Monday night because he didn’t want to say good bye to
her at the airport. She hugged Jim all night, and when it was time to go, she wouldn’t
“Please, don’t make this more difficult than it is.”
“I miss you already. Write to me every day, pray each night and go to church
went you can."
Jim left and Lupe watched him walk up Liberty Street, then turn on Noe Street. The
next morning Mary cried, and Jim had to make the same promises to her as Lupe. He
would try to call his parents every Sunday, and he would write to Lupe when he could. Joe
and Jim picked up Papas in Joe’s gray 56 Pontiac Chieftain, and drove them to the airport.
Mrs. Papas’ had baked an apple pie for them to eat on the plane. Papas gave the pie to
Joe as thanks for the ride to the airport. They arrived at San Francisco International
Airport, and Joe dropped them off at the curb. Jim and Joe shook hands, then Joe gave
Jim a hug. Jim replied with a firm hug. Papas and Jim said thanks for the ride. Joe
appreciated Jim’s sense of adventure, and treated him with respect as a man. Jim was
their only child, and it was time to cut the cord. Papas and Jim found the Western
Airlines terminal and checked in. Each had one large canvas gym bag and a small carry-
on bag. Mary advised Jim to have a change of underwear and his personal articles with
him in the small bag, in case the airlines lost his large bag. Thank God for mothers. The
flight took two hours and they landed in Seattle at lunchtime.
Uncle Vic met them at the Seattle airport. They shook hands and Jim introduced
Papas to Uncle Vic. Vic told Papas he could work for him if things didn’t work out in Nome.
A mate’s contract was his paycheck at the end of ten weeks of work. The captain of the
boat was God and he could fire any one at any time. While at sea the captain fed the
mates twice a day and when they finished a sixteen-hour day, they slept to the motion of
the sea. If they ran into a school of salmon, they worked until the hold was filled or the
fishing stopped. Papas and Jim were third mates who had a week to learn how to become
second mates. A second mate averaged 5% of the catch, or about $3,000, for ten weeks
work. A mailman made about $5,000 a year. Half of the third mates quit or got fired the
first week. Jim wished that he and Papas could work together. Papas had signed on in
May and Jim didn’t hear from Uncle Vic until the beginning of June. Jim reminded Papas
to call if things did not work out. He said good-bye to Papas and watched him board the
flight to Anchorage.
Uncle Vic was five foot nine and weighed one hundred seventy pounds. He had
a coarse black beard, and looked like a black bear with a man’s face. He had one long
furry black eyebrow above his eyes. He and Mary resembled their father. Vic was married
to Bernice for nine years. A doctor told Bernice she would never have children, so they
adopted Tommy and two years later Bernice gave birth to their daughter Cathy. Tommy
was five and Cathy was two. They lived a few miles from Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island
in the Juan De Fuca Straits. Port Townsend was the closest city, and Bellingham was the
closest big city with a hospital. During the spring and fall Uncle Vic worked in construction
building homes, and swimming pools and he had built the house that they lived in. He
would buy old houses, fix them, and sell them for a profit. He was like his father, very
industrious. Uncle Vic had a 1954 Black two door Cadillac Coupe De Ville, and a 1947
Harley Davidson motorcycle, with black leather saddle bags. The fishing boat was at
Anacortes and they would leave Friday with five other crewmen. A typical crew was five
and Vic wasn’t sure if Jim would finish the first week.
It was Friday morning and the first time Jim had worked an hour before sunrise.
During the first week Jim learned how to tend and mend net, gut fish, and pack the hold.
Coffee tasted better on cool salty mornings, the sun rose and danced on the water, and
sea gulls begged for fish heads. The boat was called the Lady Jane. It was fifty-five feet
long, and was white with green and black trim. The back of the boat, the aft, was cut out
for the purse-seine net and winch. The hold was from the middle to the aft, below deck.
Rubber tires were strung from the bow to the starboard and port sides. She had a few
miles on her, but Uncle Vic took good care of the diesel engine. The five other members
arrived between seven and nine o’clock. Nicholas (Sten) Stencowski was Polish and in his
late fifties. This was Sten’s fourth year with Vic as the cook and second in command. He
had years of fishing experience written on his leather face. Pete Peterson was in his
thirties and Swedish. He had worked for another captain, who’s boat sunk last winter.
Pete was experienced and friendly. He asked Jim, “Is this your first summer?”
“How did you find out about the job?”
“From a friend.”
“You don’t talk much.” said Pete.
Jim nodded and half smiled.
Vic told Jim not to call him uncle. He was just a third mate trying to become a
second mate for the summer. The three other guys were college students from the
University of Washington, two juniors and one sophomore. It was their first time at sea.
Jim and the three guys from college were in competition for two second mates jobs.
The Lady Jane set sail for Anchorage. Vic had a fishing license and territory
permit for the summer. There were designated areas to fish for salmon. The native
Indians had areas for fishing, and the rest was international waters. Sunday morning they
arrived at Anchorage. The motion of the sea was not conducive to sleeping on board.
Sten said it was like sleeping in your mother’s arms. Jim missed his warm and
comfortable bed. Sten was a good cook. Breakfast was ham and eggs, muffins, and hot
coffee. There wasn’t time for lunch when they started fishing, so they didn’t stop to eat or
piss. Some of the guys pissed in their pants, and wash it out with seawater. Jim wasn’t
ready for that experience. The mates kept a muffin in each pocket for lunch. When there
was time Jim took a bite of a whole-wheat muffin soaked with salt water and fish scales.
Jim called Lupe and his parents from Anchorage Sunday afternoon. All was well,
and he missed them. Papas sent a letter to him at general delivery. He made it to Nome,
and was going through the same baptism of the third mate. Papas gave Jim a phone
number to call him next Saturday at noon. Then they would know if they made second
mate and ten weeks of fishing. The sophomore had a change of heart and quit by
Tuesday. Some folks snore at night. Sten farted, and the lad was not sleeping well. The
two juniors were having second thoughts when they were told that they would eat salmon
for ten weeks. Ham and eggs was a treat. Steaks were on dry land, not at sea. They
tended and mended the fishing nets, gutted fish, and pack the hold were the fish were
kept. Jim went in the dingy a few times with Pete, and helped lay the net by making a half
circle around the back of the boat, and the winch hoisted the net on board. They
separated the salmon from the other fish caught, gutted and cleaned the fish, and layered
them in the storage hold with crushed ice. The guts were thrown overboard and a trail of
seagulls followed the boat. All of the fish that were mutilated by the net were cut up and
used as chum: bait for the next day, or Sten made fish head soup, fish cakes, or fish stew
with potatoes. The two college guys did not bring heavy work gloves and after a few days
the gloves had cracks. Tender hands blister and cut easily when tending net. The sea salt
finds any wound and adds to the misery.
On Friday night they went to Anchorage to get their land legs back. After five
days at sea rocking in the boat from the waves, the cold salty sea air slapping their
faces, and eating fish for dinner the past four nights, it was liberty. The pleasure of
firm ground, being with other people who didn’t smell like dead fish, and a hot bath was
inviting. Jim went to general delivery, and got four letters from Lupe. Jim wrote her a
letter explaining that he couldn’t write to her every day. They’d be at sea for three to five
days until the hold was filled. Jim told Lupe that he thought about her all of the time.
Mary wrote twice and she wanted to know how Jim was doing and if he needed anything.
There was a letter from Papas. He wasn’t happy with the captain or the crew in Nome. He
wanted to know if there was a job in Anchorage. Nome was an expensive Eskimo town,
and not very friendly. Ham and eggs or an Eskimo whore was $20.
It was Saturday morning, and Jim was at peace with his body. He had a hot bath
Friday night, ate a thick steak, and drank two bottles of coke. Clean underwear, the smell
of soap and deodorant, and warm socks were now the simple pleasures of life. When Jim
was in port he had to buy his food. He couldn’t afford $10 for ham and eggs, so he settled
for a couple of yesterday’s muffins. Sten hated to waste food, and didn’t mind if he had
the muffins. Jim called Papas and they talked for three minutes. Papas said that the
captain of his boat was found dead in a pile of garbage behind the saloon where he was
playing cards. Papas had no job, and was flying down to Anchorage Sunday. Jim told
Papas he would meet him at the airport. Papas was disappointed because he had spent
$300 to go to Nome Alaska for nothing.
Jim told Papas that Vic needed another mate because the three college guys had
quit. He told Papas about Vic, Sten, and Pete, that hey would fish for salmon for six
weeks, then go north to Norton Sound, and fish for halibut. On the way back they would
fish for king crab off the Aleutian Islands. Jim told Papas, ”Sten and Pete don’t know that
Vic is my uncle. Vic is a fair man. Sten and Pete are decent guys.”
“All I want is a chance,” said Papas.
Monday morning at sunrise they sailed to Kodiak Island in the Shelikof Straits,
southwest of Anchorage. Papas was hired as second mate and Jim had earned the
respect of Sten and Pete. Vic was pleased that Jim could handle the work. They
fished until the hold was filled, then went back to Anchorage to deposit the fish in a locker.
The fish company weighed it, examined the quality of fish, and recorded the weight and
price per pound. Pete and Papas rested that day and Jim went with Sten to refill the diesel
tanks, buy food, and get the mail. Jim mailed a letter he wrote to Lupe, and called his
parents collect on Sunday for three minutes to confirm that he was okay. There wasn’t
time to do much else. They worked from sunrise to sunset, eighteen hours a day. It was
hard work, but Jim was enjoying the freedom and adventure being a second mate.
More next week...